Autechre L-event [EP]

[Warp; 2013]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: techno, electro, sound design, hip-hop
Others: Frank Bretschneider, Scald Roguish, Sendai, Zavoloka

There is a moment about halfway through L-event’s opener “tac Lacora” that throws everything else on the EP into question. The track writhes along at breakneck pace, each element so volatile that a mind-melting descent into acidic noise seems the only conceivable conclusion. Instead, a split-second of silence at the crucial moment provides the aural equivalent of a movie jump cut, and we are thrown into a radically different yet eerily familiar soundscape, like a dub version of the same piece. The tune and rhythm remain intact, but the sounds are processed beyond recognition, and the immediate impulse is to rewind, listen close, and try to answer the questions, “What just happened? And how did we end up here?”

These are apt questions indeed for an act at the forefront of electronic music, who for over 20 years now have relentlessly explored new domains and techniques with each new release. Such flashy production tricks are all over L-event and will no doubt provide any technically minded listeners and would-be imitators with endless cause for head-scratching. For the rest of us, they simply serve as reminders of the times we are living in, with technology and culture accelerating at such incredible rates that “keeping up” has become impossible, and we can only marvel.

Yet progressive as it may be, nothing here sounds entirely alien: part of what makes Autechre so intriguing is how they manage to ground their weird abstractions in our familiar common heritage. On this year’s Exai, to which L-event is a companion piece, the duo combined some of its most rigorous experiments in sound design with an unusually clear exposition of their hip-hop and hardcore roots. Those roots are still clearly on display here, with both “M39 Diffain” and “Newbound” based around unsteady hip-hop rhythms, the lumbering bass line of the former recalling LFO’s eponymous techno classic. Perhaps even more strikingly familiar are these compositions’ musique concrète-like building blocks, giving them uniquely terrestrial atmospheres. Almost every percussion sound seems to evoke some real, human action: coughing, scraping, clicking, gulping.

By taking real-world contexts as their starting points, then, Autechre do actually go some way to answering the question of “how we got here,” with the metamorphosing tracks of L-event mapping out the various ways in which the future comes into being. In “tac Lacora,” we have the apparent chaos of trial and error evolution — biological, technological, or socio-cultural — with every element’s every parameter seeming to vary independently, simultaneously. Small changes soon combine to make big ones, but it is a blind process, the patterns only discernible in retrospect.

Elsewhere, the changes feel subtler and more deliberate. “Osla for n” is one of the slowest-moving pieces in the Autechre discography, its trajectory defined only by a careful tweaking of the rhythm track. What starts as an erratic shuffle is nudged over the course of eight minutes into a more-or-less quantized groove, like a new product or paradigm being fine-tuned and perfected. Then, as if to undermine that myth of control, “newbound” shows how quickly projects can go awry: opening the track with the naïve optimism of its title, the bright lead synth is soon interrupted by another — heavy with reverb — and splits, warps, is forced to reconfigure itself to its surroundings.

These narratives of change make for a remarkably warm listen, capturing the thrills, wonder, unease, and disappointment of our accelerating world. Tellingly, they are also reflected in Autechre’s release strategy: L-event is at once a honing of the Exai double LP — re-imagining its source material and adapting its sprawling length to a more listener-friendly 26 minutes — and a wholly new venture, an experiment for its own sake. Autechre therefore present a uniquely realistic vision of our present-future: always problematic, limited by human nature and other complications, yet driven forward by incredible optimism, perpetually fixing itself and, adapting to new contexts, engaged in a constant state of becoming.

Links: Autechre - Warp